The unoriginal manifesto

It’s a strange feeling when you realize that your ‘original’ design philosophy is anything but. When your personal “aha!” moment has been aha-ed long, long before you. What’s more, its one thing to be beat to the punch by your colleagues or contemporaries, but entirely another to be over 50 years late to the party.
My naiveté was made painfully apparent whilst reading the works of CIAM, Jacobs, Archigram, Chtcheglov and Constant in particular.
To give some context, let me quickly present what I thought was my personal contribution to centuries of Architecture:
A self-organized, inter-connected, digital city. One continuously in flux. Responding and adapting to the populace on a scale and at a rate currently unavailable to today’s technology. The city, (though, perhaps urban-organism is a better word (that an architect would use at least)) observes patterns in its people and responds accordingly. The city is a continuous feedback loop: the people shape, both physically and culturally the city and the city in turn shapes and influences its people. Interaction is encouraged, the collective efforts of the people mold the city, rather than one urban planner or one planning committee. Finally, and most importantly, the architecture profession will be a thing of the past.
Admittedly, the modernism critics of the 50s and 60s may not have been thinking of a “digital city,” but an adaptive, self-organizing, user defined city has made itself so clearly unoriginal that I cringe to think it was mine.
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Let’s start with Chtcheglov: It should come as no surprise that a man committed to a mental institution for conspiring to take to the Eiffel tower with dynamite had some forward thinking ideas to share.
In 1958, Chtecheglov wrote that the technology of the day would provide the individual with an “unbroken contact with cosmic reality while eliminating its disagreeable aspects.”
Chtcheglov provides very specific examples of how one might live: Homes mounted on tracks, capable of turning with the sun or perhaps popping down to the sea side in the morning and back home to the forest in the evening.
“Architectural complexes will be modifiable. Their appearance will change totally or partially in accordance with the will of their inhabitants.”
What would Chtecheglov make of today’s technology? With the new wave of smart materials; shape memory alloys, temperature-responsive polymers and whatever new material NASA or some startup has out this week. Maybe Chtecheglov’s house wouldn’t be on tracks but rather a breathing, living home/thermostat. Moving and shaping depending on a plethora of environmental factors to suit individual occupants and comfort levels. As for the journey down to the beach, why stop there? Why not another city, or the bottom of the ocean, or the moon? Would Chtecheglov have embraced the sci-fi like realm of Google glasses and Augmented reality?
Constant’s acceptance of new technology is similar to that of Chtecheglov, he suggests that one must make use of “all new inventions” and that the “future constructions we envisage will need to be extremely supple in order to respond to a dynamic conception of life.” I would argue that the ‘dynamic conception of life’ today, is changing at a rate that Constant couldn’t have envisaged. Can we still create a surrounding “in direct relation to incessantly changing behavior,” as Constant calls for?
No doubt Constant would have included the web in his arsenal of ‘new inventions’ if he wrote New Babylon today. But I’d be more interested to see if he explored the fields of say emergent systems, or neural networks. I like to think that Constant’s New Babylon (or Archigram’s walking city for that matter) would today be defined as a living network. To use the neural network metaphor, each building, or building element, or person, or whatever would act like a digital neuron. Constantly firing information to its neighbors, doubling back for confirmation, and spreading throughout the built environment. This creates a self-assembled, self-organized complex landscape. It would be foolish to observe one of these component separately, but rather should be seen in the context of the whole.
Rather than one central command centre, the city is instead informed and shaped by these continuous micro-exchanges of information. Like an information processing system, the input for the city might be the population’s thoughts, wants and needs whilst the output is the built environment, which in turn, inspires the population creating a continuous loop of a changing environment.
Finally, I’d like to explore Jane Jacobs’ Death and life of great American cities and its criticism of urban planners. Jacobs fought hard against urban planning that proposed taking people off the streets as it was those people that shaped and defined a city. “Sidewalks” she writes, “their bordering uses, and their users, are active participants in the drama of civilization versus barbarianism in cities.” To combat this ‘barbarianism’ Jacobs wants more people on the streets, “a well-used city street is apt to be a safe street.”
I have no idea how Jacobs would react to a networked city similar to that which is being proposed here. (I have a feeling she’d hate it) but we find common ground in the quest for people on the streets. It is on the streets where interaction between people happens. The question however is: how do you get more people using the sidewalk?
I would propose that if the population were rewarded for their interaction on the street through their physical environment, it would encourage users to interact with their city.
This would give rise to a safer and more eclectic city. The parts of town Jacobs warned of where people feel unsafe or insecure wouldn’t be avoided and left to decay but rather shaped to a space in which people feel safe, or, if unused, the city would shift and swallowed up by those areas performing well.
Instead of the take it or leave it nature of say Le Corbusier’s superblocks, in the above proposed city the attitude should be take it or change it.

The Internet of Architecture Things
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Architects in the adaptive city

Benjamin Bratton proposes that one half of all architects and urbanists stop designing new buildings. Instead, they should be focusing their attention on the design and development of new software that provides for better use of structures and systems we already have.
Bratton proposes the above as an ‘experiment,’ I would go further and suggest that in the coming decades, the architects and urbanists in Bratton’s proposal will have very little say in the matter. Architects will surely have to drastically redefine themselves and the entire profession if they are to survive.
For centuries, one person, or one group of architects, urban planners, politicians, whatever have been defining their perfect city, suggesting that their solution is the perfect answer to urban living. The daily living and working conditions of a city should not fall to one person or one small group. The city and its people are constantly changing, perhaps now at a faster rate than even before, both in population size and culture.
A population can quickly outgrow its city or region in the space of one generation. The people change and the city lags. It’s for this reason, the future city should be an adaptive, inter-connected, self-organizing network that can respond to users’ needs on a scale and at a rate not currently available. An adaptive city that can respond to change immediately, relieving the population of the short sightedness of politicians and urban planners.
READ MORE..

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The unoriginal manifesto

It’s a strange feeling when you realize that your ‘original’ design philosophy is anything but. When your personal “aha!” moment has been aha-ed long, long before you. What’s more, its one thing to be beat to the punch by your colleagues or contemporaries, but entirely another to be over 50 years late to the party.
My naiveté was made painfully apparent whilst reading the works of CIAM, Jacobs, Archigram, Chtcheglov and Constant in particular.
To give some context, let me quickly present what I thought was my personal contribution to centuries of Architecture:
A self-organized, inter-connected, digital city. One continuously in flux. Responding and adapting to the populace on a scale and at a rate currently unavailable to today’s technology. The city, (though, perhaps urban-organism is a better word (that an architect would use at least)) observes patterns in its people and responds accordingly. The city is a continuous feedback loop: the people shape, both physically and culturally the city and the city in turn shapes and influences its people. Interaction is encouraged, the collective efforts of the people mold the city, rather than one urban planner or one planning committee. Finally, and most importantly, the architecture profession will be a thing of the past.
Admittedly, the modernism critics of the 50s and 60s may not have been thinking of a “digital city,” but an adaptive, self-organizing, user defined city has made itself so clearly unoriginal that I cringe to think it was mine.
READ MORE..

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